Flat-Out Un-Fair: Tax ‘Fix’ More than a Four-Letter Word
President’s panel proposes more of the
same rather than fixing a convoluted, success-punishing tax code.
By Dan Gainor
Director, Free Market
Oct. 19, 2005
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The president’s tax panel is close to issuing its recommendations,
but we already know enough of the result to call it a failure. The
panel is missing an opportunity to fix a system that everyone in
America knows is broken – everyone, it seems, but them.
Â Â Â Â President Bush set up the President’s Advisory Panel on
Federal Tax Reform early this year “to assist in reforming the
Federal Internal Revenue Code to benefit all Americans,” according
to the executive order that created it. Reform is desperately needed
– but not if it misses the point entirely. Benefiting “all
Americans” doesn’t mean artificially creating winners and losers.
Nearly all Americans would agree that the 9 million words of the tax
code don’t equal a system that either works well or is fair. We
don’t need the panel to make things worse.
Â Â Â Â Bush instructed them to propose changes that “simplify”
the tax laws and promote economic growth and job creation. He also
required that any changes be “revenue neutral policy options.” That
should mean that our taxes won’t go up. But then again, this is
Washington. It also means our taxes won’t go down, but that is never
Â Â Â Â The first thing the panel did was to make it clear they
wanted to put a stake through the heart of the Alternative Minimum
Tax (AMT). The AMT is an example of Washington at its scary worst.
It was created in 1969 to make sure a few top earners paid at least
some tax. But Congress didn’t even bother to adjust the AMT for
inflation. The number of people who pay has risen to the millions
and it’s estimated that the tax would take about $1.2 trillion from
working Americans over the next 10 years.
Â Â Â Â So to kill the highly unpopular AMT, the panel proposes
replacing our home interest deduction with a more limited 15-percent
interest credit and taxing health insurance plans above a certain
level. Another option it is considering is a “progressive
consumption tax” that would create four new tax brackets and change
numerous tax rules.
Â Â Â Â Those plans don’t simplify anything – and they
certainly don’t encourage growth or job creation. They just switch
things around rather than actually fixing problems that make the
cleanup effort following Hurricane Katrina look small. We have
government spending spiraling out of control, long-term obligations
for Social Security and Medicare equaling more than $70 trillion and
a tax system beyond the ability of mere mortals to understand.
Â Â Â Â In response to these enormous obstacles, all we are
getting from the panel is more of the same. More failed tax plans.
More picking the winners and losers in our economy. More business as
Â Â Â Â It seems that the panel has already given up on major
changes to the tax code. Both the flat tax and the FairTax failed to
gain their approval. Both of these plans are more than just
four-letter words. They would eliminate the ridiculous tax code we
now have and replace it with a simpler, more efficient system –
exactly what the panel was asked to do in the first place. Either
system would leave it up to us to pick how we want to spend our
hard-earned cash instead of relying on politicians and special
Â Â Â Â But the tax panel doesn’t want that to happen.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the bipartisan panel’s
nine members include: “two former U.S. senators, a former U.S.
representative, four professors (two from California), a former
Internal Revenue Service commissioner and the chief investment
strategist for Charles Schwab.” The former senators are Florida
Republican Connie Mack and Democrat John Breaux of Louisiana, who
both work for firms that lobby Congress.
Â Â Â Â Who isn’t on the panel? Well, we the people who
actually pay the taxes, of course. The result is another Washington
example of misdirection. We’d like to celebrate removing
government’s hand from our pocket, but they’re just switching
Â Â Â Â Congress has played the game of winners and losers many
times in the past. In 1986, they played with tax benefits for
commercial real estate. According to the National Association of
Realtors’ spokeswoman Linda Goold, quoted in the October 13 San
Francisco Chronicle, “Within five years, commercial real estate
values had deteriorated 30 percent.” Thank you, Congress.
Â Â Â Â The panel’s final proposal, due by November 1, appears
to be dead on arrival – for now. Rational legislators will stand up
to the idea of replacing one confusing tax code with another.
Meanwhile, the rest of us will continue to pay through the nose,
because the president’s panel doesn’t really want to fix the tax
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Â Â Â Â The tax panel plans an October 27 teleconference. To
find out more about that event, go to
Dan Gainor is a veteran journalist and director of the Media
Research Center’s Free Market Project.